Accuracy in Media

For months ahead of the first 2020 primaries, the mainstream media portrayed former vice president Joe Biden as the front-runner among a field of over two-dozen Democratic Party primary candidates. With three primaries in the books, the media pivoted to openly wondering if Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is “unstoppable” heading into the Democratic Party’s 2020 nominating convention this summer.

The media’s headlines reflected this about-face change in its narrative, shifting from covering Biden to covering Sanders’ campaign. NBC News headlined its concerns about Sanders and wrote, “Unstoppable? Bernie Sanders heads into South Carolina stronger than ever.” Time’s headline read, “Bernie Sanders Wins Again in Nevada. Can He Be Stopped?” USA Today’s take was, “Bernie Sanders’ Nevada win forces Democrats to reckon with potential impact of his nomination.” Fox News chimed in, too, and said, “Sanders’ win in Nevada reinforces his front-runner status, draws more attacks from rivals.”

Compare those headlines to ones about Biden from two weeks ago:

  • The New York Times: “Wobbly after Iowa, Biden confronts a Perilous Moment.”
  • BuzzFeed News: “Joe Biden Argued He’s the One Who Can Win. What Happens After He Blew It in Iowa?”
  • McClatchy: “Biden hasn’t broken through in Iowa. Can an electability pitch put him over the top?”
  • Boston Globe: “Biden makes electability pitch in New Hampshire.”

The media’s shifting narrative demonstrated how volatile political campaigns are, but also exposed its preferences heading into the 2020 election. The media claimed that Biden had all the momentum before the first primaries were held in Iowa and New Hampshire, due to his strong position in pre-primary polling. News outlets and cable news channels analyzed Biden’s past comments, some of which stirred controversy. But the media failed to vet and research other candidates in the field, such as Sanders’ support and praise for socialist regimes and socialism in general.

Now, with Sanders’ momentum heading into the South Carolina primary, the media ignored its past narrative of Biden’s electability and pivoted to Sanders’ potentially-unstoppable campaign.

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